Time can slowly remedy personality disorders, even without treatment, research shows.
Psychologists and psychiatrists had long thought that people with personality disorders cannot change.
Personality was thought to be like eye colour or height — very difficult to change.
But, personality disorders can improve, the study of 240 people over 4 years found — even without any kind of treatment (although treatment can help).
Professor Mark F. Lenzenweger, who led the study, said:
“Although the disorders are common, with 1 in 10 people affected, the good news is that we now know the disorders can change with time.”
Common personality disorders include borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder.
Borderline personality disorder involves a history of unstable relationships, possible substance misuse and self-destructive behaviour.
People with antisocial personality disorder have no regard for other people’s feelings or judgments and see themselves as free of society’s rules and standards.
Those with a narcissistic personality disorder have a disregard for others and grandiose sense of their own importance.
Although treatments were not specifically tested in this study, there are now specialised approaches for personality disorders.
Other personality disorders include:
- Histrionic personality disorder.
- Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.
- Avoidant personality disorder.
The conclusions come from a study that followed 250 people over four years.
They were examined for features of personality disorders at three time points.
The results showed that over time the features of personality disorders reduce, by an average of 1.4 per year.
People who did get treatment for their personality disorder during the study also saw an increased improvement in their symptoms.
The study’s authors conclude that:
“… [personality disorder] features show considerable variability across individuals over time.
This fine-grained analysis of individual growth trajectories provides compelling evidence of change in PD [personality disorder] features over time and does not support the assumption that PD features are traitlike, enduring, and stable over time.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry (Lenzenweger et al., 2004).